THE RED GHOST

Known for her ghostly tales, Bauer has successfully opened a trap door for transitional readers who want a scary—but not too scary—story. This companion to The Blue Ghost (2005), part of the Stepping Stones series, features an old doll dressed in red velvet that Jenna finds at a neighbor’s garage sale. It’s just the gift she needs for her younger sister’s birthday, and the neighbor even gives it to her for free! But when Jenna’s cat hisses and attacks the doll, and strange sounds come from it in her closet, she tries to get rid of it, even putting it in a garbage can. Is the muted voice calling for help coming from the doll? Why won’t Mrs. Tate take the doll back? Is the doll haunted or haunting? Ferguson’s sketchy black-and-white drawings decorate the text, but it’s the eerie plot that will have girls racing to the end, and even looking at old dolls with widened eyes. Bauer’s hit on a perfect formula, and like Andrew Lang with his Fairy Books, she has many more colors to go. (Fiction. 7-10)

Pub Date: April 22, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-375-84081-4

Page Count: 96

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2008

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An effort as insubstantial as any spirit.

THE MYSTERIOUS MESSENGER

Eleven-year-old Maria Russo helps her charlatan mother hoodwink customers, but Maria has a spirited secret.

Maria’s mother, the psychic Madame Destine, cons widows out of their valuables with the assistance of their apartment building’s super, Mr. Fox. Madame Destine home-schools Maria, and because Destine is afraid of unwanted attention, she forbids Maria from talking to others. Maria is allowed to go to the library, where new librarian Ms. Madigan takes an interest in Maria that may cause her trouble. Meanwhile, Sebastian, Maria’s new upstairs neighbor, would like to be friends. All this interaction makes it hard for Maria to keep her secret: that she is visited by Edward, a spirit who tells her the actual secrets of Madame Destine’s clients via spirit writing. When Edward urges Maria to help Mrs. Fisher, Madame Destine’s most recent mark, Maria must overcome her shyness and her fear of her mother—helping Mrs. Fisher may be the key to the mysterious past Maria uncovers and a brighter future. Alas, picture-book–creator Ford’s middle-grade debut is a muddled, melodramatic mystery with something of an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink feel: In addition to the premise, there’s a tragically dead father, a mysterious family tree, and the Beat poets. Sluggish pacing; stilted, unrealistic dialogue; cartoonishly stock characters; and unattractive, flat illustrations make this one to miss. Maria and Sebastian are both depicted with brown skin, hers lighter than his; the other principals appear to be white.

An effort as insubstantial as any spirit. (author’s note) (Paranormal mystery. 7-10)

Pub Date: July 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-20567-4

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Christy Ottaviano/Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: March 29, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2020

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A fun-if-flimsy vehicle for science lovers.

DRAGONS VS. UNICORNS

From the Kate the Chemist series

A fifth grade girl brings her love of chemistry to the school play.

Kate loves science so much she’s determined to breathe fire. Of course she knows that she needs adult supervision, and so, with her science teacher’s help, Kate demonstrates an experiment with cornstarch and a blowtorch that nearly sets her teacher’s cactus on fire. Consequences ensue. Can someone who loves science as much as Kate does find pleasure spending her fall break at drama camp? It turns out that even the school play—Dragons vs. Unicorns—needs a chemist, though, and Kate saves the day with glue and glitter. She’s sabotaged along the way, but everything is fine after Kate and her frenemy agree to communicate better (an underwhelming response to escalating bullying). Doodles decorate the pages; steps for the one experiment described that can be done at home—making glittery unicorn-horn glue—are included. The most exciting experiments depicted, though, include flames or liquid nitrogen and could only be done with the help of a friendly science teacher. Biberdorf teaches chemistry at the University of Texas and also performs science-education programs as “Kate the Chemist”; in addition to giving her protagonist her name and enthusiasm, she also seems represented in Kate-the-character’s love of the fictional YouTube personality “Dr. Caroline.” Kate and her nemesis are white; Kate’s best friends are black and South Asian.

A fun-if-flimsy vehicle for science lovers. (Fiction. 8-10)

Pub Date: April 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-11655-5

Page Count: 144

Publisher: Philomel

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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